The Canadian impressed with two third place finishes at the previous round in Baku, and he kept up the momentum during Saturday’s Feature Race in Austria, when a battling drive and a shrewd race strategy propelled him to second place, just 1.3 sec behind the winner.
The weekend got off to a strong start during Friday’s free practice session, where Nicholas laid the foundations for success on the 4.3km track.
“I put a big emphasis here on being quick in practice and I think I ended with the best session I’ve had so far in GP2 or F2,” he said. “I was quickest for a while and ended P4, but the times were very close and I felt confident. We made a few adjustments to try and improve the balance of the car in qualifying but we probably made a few too many, and I didn’t have the same confidence. P8 was a bit of a disappointment after the practice but still, it was a good place to race from.”
Saturday’s 40-lap Feature Race was run in hot and humid conditions, and Nicholas and his DAMS Racing team made an inspired call on how best to use the allocated supersoft and soft tyres.
Nicholas said: “Before the race, we were debating our tyre strategy back and forth for hours, and we left it until we were on the grid to finally decide. In the end, we went for the supersofts first and the primes later, and I think that was the right call. I had a great start from P8, which was key, and got in front of all the guys on the same strategy. It wasn’t easy to maintain my position, after three laps the supersofts were gone and getting to the pit window ahead of my team-mate was tricky.”
Nicholas was the first supersoft driver to pit, on lap 7. “Once I had the soft tyres I was quite conservative for the first half of the stint, I ran my own race and was just managing the tyres,” he said. “Then for about the last 12 laps the package felt really good and I could push harder. When I heard the guys ahead were pitting, I knew that they would struggle quite quickly on the supersofts. But I kept my tyres and it paid off in the end because I climbed to second.”
In comparison, Sunday’s 28-lap Sprint Race was a trickier affair. Starting from P7, Nicholas’s hopes for a clean getaway were dented in the congestion that followed a start-line shunt between Boschung and Marciello. “I got a good start but was a bit unlucky in the first corners, I got hit from behind in turn one and pushed down the straight, then I got squeezed off the track at turn three. It wasn’t a disaster, just unlucky. You can’t win them all,” he said.
After a Safety Car period, Nicholas settled into P6 and elected to bide his time and preserve his tyres before a late push. However, that strategy changed when he was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. “It was my mistake, I hadn’t put the pit limiter on when we drove through behind the Safety Car. After the earlier contact, I was talking on the radio to the team, asking them to check the car was okay as I drove by,” he said.
Informed of the penalty, Nicholas pushed harder straight away, but his tyres – and his later pace – suffered. He finished P8 to take another championship point and remain fourth in the standings with six rounds remaining.
The championship resumes next weekend at Silverstone in the UK, with Nicholas eager to maintain his momentum. “Overall it has been a very positive weekend. Now we have to continue this form into Silverstone. It’s my favourite track of the year. I can’t wait,” he said.
Nicholas’s bid for FIA Formula 2 Championship success is proudly supported by Royal Bank of Canada, Lavazza and Sofina in 2017.